Founded in Albury in 1981 by Max and Lynn Luff, Border Express has flourished in recent decades to become one of Australia’s largest transport operations.
But it was as recent as 2014 that the company initiated its now widely used parcel delivery business.
The organisation’s strong growth since then has been largely organic, other than the acquisition of Ross Freight in NSW which was absorbed in 2017.
“That gave us a true national network with full visibility,” says Mark Luff, Executive Director Transformation at Border Express. “When COVID hit it allowed us to leverage off that network.”
It has been important during the evolution of Border Express that it be capable of operating in a dynamic market and have the resilience to handle unexpected circumstances such as those experienced during the era of COVID.
“We recognise that to some extent we are unique, in that we’ve got a national platform for both bulk and parcel operations,” says Mark. “One of the things we did going back to 2020 was an end-to-end review and the development of our forward strategy. A critical component of that process was where to play and how to win.”
Defining the sectors in which it could deliver the best value for clients, while at the same time creating shareholder value, has been an important factor in the recent success of Border Express.
“A key area of focus when operating a parcel service is density. Our strategy has created a parcel consignment profile that underpins a fleet of vans which are larger than typical courier vans, and deliver larger freight volumes at each stop,” Mark explains.
“Our bulk freight service then covers everything above the parcel profile, and the strength of the business is being able to offer that full-service range, and to do it nationally.”
To efficiently perform those deliveries, Border Express has made a $13 million investment in upgrading its local PUD (Pickup and Delivery) fleet across Australia.
This substantial investment indicates another commitment to staying at the forefront of the logistics industry and aligning with the evolving demands of driver safety and tangible environmental impacts.
After a rigorous selection process which considered several vehicle brands, the Border Express fleet upgrade involves 78 brand-new Fuso trucks, ranging from 15 Fuso Canter six-pallet parcel trucks, 36 medium duty Fuso Shogun 360 14 Pallet Rigid Tautliners, two Fuso Fighter 10 Pallet Rigid Tautliners, 24 Fuso Shogun 510 Prime Movers, as well as a Fuso Fighter crane truck.
The fleet upgrade is just one part of the Border Express commitment to a more sustainable future and the company has also invested in a fleet of electric forklifts at its newly constructed Wetherill Park facility in NSW.
This move is part of a comprehensive, multi-year plan to transition from LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) to electric-powered material handling equipment.
“We are in the process of upgrading our facilities,” says Mark. “Part of the challenge with any business is you’re looking for purpose-built facilities and you’ve got ten or so years’ commitment and you’ve got to be confident about what the next ten years looks like.”
With that, Border Express has taken on a new facility in Sydney, commissioned design and construction of a facility in Cranbourne West in the southeast of Melbourne, as well as one at Perth airport.
“Over the last 42 years, our guiding principle has centred on a dedication to investing in our business. As we evolved from solely being a bulk carrier to incorporating a parcel service, we have consistently allocated resources to improve our operations and invest in IT and data analytics.” Mark says.
“We have maintained a fleet of company owned vehicles and always balanced the number of sub-contractors operating in our PUD fleet. A considerable portion of the work we’ve engaged in goes beyond the bulk space, reflecting a more balanced approach that involves venturing outside the confines of traditional square boxes.”
In late October 2023 Freight Management Holdings (FMH Group), which is 88 per cent owned by Singapore Post Limited, entered into a conditional sale and purchase agreement with the shareholders of Border Express for a maximum purchase consideration of $210 million.
If the agreement completes, as Australia’s sixth largest pallet and parcel distribution operator, Border Express will be a major addition to the portfolio of companies controlled by FMH Group and would join Niche Logistics, BagTrans, Formby Logistics, Spectrum Transport (QLD) and GKR Transport in the stable as Singapore Post widens its logistics presence in Australia.
“FMH Group has built a sustainable integrated logistics business in Australia,” says Vincent Phang, Group Chief Executive Officer, Singapore Post Group.
“This acquisition solidifies FMH as a leading logistics provider and continues the growth and development of our Australian operations.”
According to Mark, Border Express was excited to embark on a new chapter as it entered into the conditional agreement made public in early November.
“Joining forces with FMH Group will provide us with access to an extensive network, cutting-edge technology and resources that will enable us to serve our customers even better and expand our reach even further,” he says.
In Australia these kind of seismic changes are becoming more prevalent across the industry.
The COVID pandemic and its aftermath has brought with it challenges never previously experienced in transport and logistics.
“Back to March 2019 we were having daily meetings on the basis we were going to get shut down overnight, so we had our plans in place if the business went down by 10 per cent, 20 per cent, even down to zero,” says Mark.
“In the first year of COVID we had 100 people away throughout the year. In the second year, we had over 500 people away, about one third of our workforce. But the people were still trying to run the tasks in the branches. It was a good trading period, and the peaks were tough because of the volume, but we recognised that at some stage we were going to come out of it. So, like our investment in the equipment we needed, we’re investing in our people.”
Not dissimilar to addressing the situations brought about by responding to COVID, the current economy’s high fuel costs and labour shortages require careful attention to ensure profitability without sacrificing customer needs.
“We’re certainly seeing now we are back to Transport 1.01 as the economy has gotten tougher, we’ve got to drive our efficiencies through our costs,” says Mark.
“We’ve largely eliminated the outside hire by making sure we are employing our own people as casuals. It’s about costs, it’s about service and making sure we are adding value for our customers.”
This time last year Border Express would have had over 150 labour hire people in the business. Now the number is closer to 20 according to Mark.
“We’ve brought on a national talent acquisition manager to assist us to recruit in that space. Upskilling our people is one of our primary objectives, and we’ve got our own in-house academy that leads training, whether it be leadership training or Chain of Responsibility.”
The economy, Mark notes, tends to make competitors react in different ways. Border Express therefore needs to make sure it’s adding value to ensure client retention is strong before it builds on it.
“I believe the continued upskilling of our staff remains the focus for us,” adds Mark.
The evolution of Border Express hasn’t necessarily just been about facilities and trucks. It’s been about the entire organisation embracing a culture of continuous improvement and a passionate commitment to high ideals.
Negotiating a conditional sale so soon after COVID is a strong indication of how resilient the Border Express organisation is regarded locally and internationally.
“Everyone was so distracted over that two-to-three-year period,” says Mark.
“Nobody could keep up with the task at hand, but we’ve certainly worked incredibly hard to make sure that our service is at the highest possible level and that we deliver value for our customers.”